What is the difference between an Outlet vs Factory Store?

Outlet Mall Review: How to Get the Best Value Shopping at Outlet Stores

Advice The Basics

Before your next visit to an Outlet Mall, know how to get the best value for your money. Are Premium Outlet Malls really the shopping jackpot? What is a Factory Store anyway? What is the difference between the regular store merchandise and what is sold at the Outlet Store? Well, let’s find out!

Outlet mall

What is a Factory Store anyway?

A new trend at outlet malls is to offer a Name Brand “Factory Store”.  Basically, the manufacturer specifically makes inferior quality clothes to market to the typical outlet mall shopper.  These are mass produced garments that would never be in the non-outlet (aka “real”) store.  And then there is the illusion of discount, each item is marked what the “real” item would be, then significantly reduced to trick the unwary shopper into believing they had found a great bargain.  During a simple examination, you will discover cheap the fabric to the touch, poor workmanship, and inferior shortcuts that would never be tolerated in the real store.  The store layout will usually feel crowded and often the sales folks knew zilch about the products.

What’s in a (Factory Store) Name?

As a general rule, I avoid any store name that ends in “Factory Store”. Common culprits are Banana Republic FS, Brooks Brothers FS, Guess FS, Hugo Boss FS, Nike FS, Polo Ralph Lauren FS, etc.  Tommy Bahama consistently is a quality store with inventory 6-9 months out of the regular store. Pay close attention to accessory brands and sports stores for irregulars, damage, or poor quality.

I would NEVER buy sports equipment or fitness items from a factory store. Any items that I rely on for my safety, or comfort during a workout or sporting event should by first quality. Saving a few bucks is not worth a split seam, uncomfortable fit, or inferior quality.

Traditional Outlet Store

The next type of store is the traditional outlet store. These are stocked with last year, or last season’s styles at a discounted price. The inventory may have been brought directly from a warehouse directly from a store. The most obvious sign are the tags marked by a strike through on the label to prevent a shopper trying to return an outlet purchase to the regular store at regular price.  

Each garment is made with the exact standard of the brand for quality clothing, including precise seams, vibrant color, consistent sizing (hold up 3 items of the same size label and ensure they are made exactly the same size length & width), and all the fabric is high quality.  The stores are typically staffed with knowledgeable sales folks and some may have even transferred from other (regular) stores. Ask and they will usually provide the store guidelines of where the inventory comes from and how long ago it was in regular stores. If you find a certain style they may even offer to call the regular store to check sizes and styles in current inventory for you.

Check for Markdowns

Some stores require a bit of detective work to determine irregular, Factory Store, real Outlet, or some other option.  Some labels are not marked in any way, no FS indication or strike through.  The only way I to identify if these are from the real store is by checking the quality of the garment, and possibly the hanging paper price tag may have the markdown sticker of the real store before being sent to the outlet (then further reduced).  Some outlet stores have a mix of irregulars and old inventory from the stores.

Check if the return policy specifically mentions “irregulars”, the products that never made it into the real store and are sent directly to the outlet, but not purposefully made inferior like the FS.  Another good sign is that the store rewards program is honored at all stores (outlet and regular).

Better Deals – Store or Outlet

I recently did a shopping experiment to determine if I could get better deals at the regular store versus the same brand outlet store.

The timing is end of summer season/fall preview, which I planned to maximize the end of season sales. Going to the same store brand at both a high-end mall and the corresponding outlet store one week later. The three stores that I targeted were Ann Taylor, Coach, and Tommy Bahama. None of these were Factory stores, rather the outlet version of each store.

There was no real price difference between the sale racks at Ann Taylor versus the outlet store (not the Factory version that also exist in some malls). AT also had a 50% off regular items so I stocked up on much needed dress slacks at the regular store (with full inventory in my size) for about the same price as picking through the outlet store trying to find last season’s trousers in limited sizes.

The last season bags and accessories at the Coach outlet store were significantly less expensive than any comparable sale items at the regular store. For basic accessories, the outlet store is the much better deal. Unless there is a very specific print or style that I MUST HAVE, the outlet store is going to be my first stop for accessories.

The biggest surprise in my experiment was Tommy Bahama. The end of season sales were 50-70% off and I found six dresses that I could not pass up! There was also one regular priced dress that went home for me for a total of seven dresses, all from the regular store. I was able to do a pretty significant wardrobe refresh for a steal! I felt even better about my purchases the next week at the outlet store where I found two of the dresses that I got at 70% off in the regular store at *only* 50% off in the outlet store. Yes, you read that correctly – the outlet store was actually more expensive for the exact items! I did end up buying another two dresses from the outlet store that are last season’s styles (but I love them anyway) and were obviously not in stock at the regular store.

The verdict? Each brand store has a different pricing model and timing for items being sent to the outlet store. Outlet pricing is not always better than the normal store and if you time the sales and take advantage of in-store rewards programs you may get a better deal at the regular store!

Premium Outlet Mall

Premium Outlet Malls are expected to include high-end designer brands. These may still be factory stores, but more often are a season or two older styles from designers.

This may be subjective, we can all (usually) agree that Prada, Gucci, Burberry, and Armani are examples of premium designer stores. However, a Premium Outlet Shopping center may only have a few (less expensive) designers while still using the “Premium” label.

For the designer label obsessed, or you crave having a handbag (or other “it” item) from a particular designer, the premium outlet store can be a major score.

I was recently in a Premium outlet store and bought two designer bags at 70% off and 90% off respectively. The bag at 70% off was on my shopping list, and I would have paid closer to retail for it. The second bag was pure impulse shopping. Honestly, at 90% off I could not pass it up!

Before planning your visit to a Premium shopping center or any outlet mall, double check the store directory to avoid wasting your time on stores that you would never shop at.

What is the difference between an Outlet vs Factory Store?

When shopping at any Outlet mall, Premium or otherwise

  • Don’t be fooled by Factory Store – know what FS means and decide for yourself if it is worth shopping.
  • Reward programs or affiliation with the regular store is a sure sign of a bargain.  The Factory Stores have little to zero association with the real store and FS might as well be called Fake Stuff.  So looking at items in a FS, would you pay that for a FAKE?  These are simply manufacturer authorized knock-offs.
  • Not sure about FS?  Check the label for FS, OUTLET sewn into the tag, or any difference from the regular tag.  A  through the name is actually a very good thing!
  • Irregulars are items that did not pass quality control for the regular store.  This could mean that the size label is not to be trusted (so try it on), or one leg is longer than the other (not bad if you need a hem anyway).  FS items would never pass quality checks by design, so an irregular may still be better quality than FS, depending on the brand and garment.
  • Triple check quality – check the seams for wear or damage, inspect the fabric for quality and stains, compare multiple items of the same style & size to ensure consistent quality of size.  Real outlet items were in a warehouse or retail store, many are barely touched in the regular store, while others get a real work-out and could show signs of wear.
  • Try everything on!  Most outlets have a short return policy or All Sales Final, so make sure it fits and you really want it before you check-out.
  • Know your brands!  There are a few stores that you may not be familiar with.  These could be cheap stores that are only at outlet malls, or high-quality treasures that you simply have not discovered, yet.

2 thoughts on “Outlet Mall Review: How to Get the Best Value Shopping at Outlet Stores

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.